|Scrambling better for better lines - Vibram 2011-12 test/task force for freeride/AT boots, kick-off|
|Written by Francesco|
|Thursday, 28 October 2010|
Freeriders and AT skiers are considered by most observers as separate entities, but we believe its time for a change. The fierce competition for powder and first tracks in lift-assisted spots has spurred a new generation of skiers who begun to scramble a bit rocks, snow and ice to get access to otherwise unaccessible, exciting new lines. Once accustomed to skins, these skiers also enjoy the AT culture and quickly become addicted to the earn your turns concept.
These skiers might scramble and/or skin for 20 min or several hours, but they all need a new generation of boots. The old freeride boots drive well fat skis but walk very poorly, their soles have no grip and traction and the overall the boots are too heavy to preserve the skiers legs to fully enjoy the immaculate lines.
We believe there is room for significant innovation in the field. We would like to use a light and comfortable boot with a great walk function, with enough critical mass to drive a 100-120 fat ski, and a sole you can deeply trust on rock, snow and ice until you actually need to use a crampon that is easy to fit.
We made a list of the 2011 boots candidate to fullfill the needs of this new generation of skiers, and begun to look for unmet needs. As a first step, we tested in Saas-Fee (late October 2010) seven boots to select those we believe can become paradigms of this new vision. Pros and Cons of every boots were evaluated, with a special focus on how to improve their performance.
The tester team:
Martino Colonna: 185x90, about 40, assistant professor of Chemistry at the University of Bologna. Hes a worldwide recognized expert of pebax, PU etc, but is probably even more famous for having summited the highest peak in China (MutzaghAta) with skins and skis, along with many others >4k in the alps and having skied neverending powder lines in US, Canada, Japan, Greenland.
Teo Calcamuggi: 185x74, about 30, UIGM mountain guide, ski teacher, editor of FREE.Ski. He has climbed and skied a long list of >4k and innovative lines in the alps and the Americas, and is currently involved in carbon DPS ski promotion/distribution in the southern alps.
Fabio (177x85) and Francesco (180x82): although they both have a good pedigree of haute routes and >4k, they better represent the average non-pro enthusiast who has a passion for scrambling and skiing Fabio also offers the ski shop specialist point of view: he works in the most respected shop in Bologna where he collects useful feedback from users.
We selected for the test days a range of skis from the classic 77-in-the-middle AT tool stockli stormrider pit pro to the novel weapon-of-choice for freeriders, the carbon made DPS wailer 112. The arsenal also included two classic do-it-all like the stockli stormrider pro (no rocker), the rockered K2 hardside, and the new AT standard for soft snow, the bamboo-carbon DPS wailer 105.
The boots and the scores (1 to 5 stars):
We tested the Tour version in PU. This plastic gets stiffer in the cold, and the Saas glacier temperature range (-4/0°) made it among the stiffest in the pack. Its a boot with a large volume that needs some customzation to improve its skiing efficacy. Buy the virus at least half size less of your standard size! The comfort scores ranged from 3 to 4, and the consensus was that a termofolded intuition liners is mandatory to achieve a good control of the heel/ankle section. Otherwise, the large inner volume can be a killer.
Customization is also relevant for the lack of a booster strap. Martino brought one to the test, and we do agree that a booster is very important to use the virus at its best. The ski drive evaluation median was 4 stars, with better results for the skiers who had the liner cooked around their feet.
The walk got 5 stars, in fact the virus has been the first boot with a rear cuff movement, a feature now shared with maestrale and TLT5 that makes these three boots by far the best choice for skiers who wants to walk/climb intensively. The buckles have no micro regulation, and this is a true pity. Dalbello should propose better buckles in the future.
The sole has one of the best grip of the pack (5 stars), but there is a durability issue related to the very soft rubber. The sole rocker might also be improved a bit.
Four stars for comfort, and easy to get in and feel immediately at home. Previous reviews showed red flags for the inconsistency of the radium in efficiently blocking the ankle, so we were pleasantly surprised by a decent ankle feeling for the testers who felt the 27 radium we were testing as their right size Take care to select the right size, indulgence in a more large volume will let your ankle dance, a recipe for bad skiing and blisters during skinning.
The buckles were the worst of the test series. Hard to lock in, hard to get out, a general bad feeling from poorly designed gear.
The walk mode was found to be poor (2 stars) compared to the new generation of boots with rear cuff movement, and the overall feeling while skiing was decent/good (with a median of 3 stars) albeit the general consensus was for a relaxed feeling from a deaf boot.
The sole is among the best features of this boot. Its hard and there should not be durability issue, but the grip was valued 4.5 stars even on killer surfaces like wet floors, iced metal, verglas. The rocker of the sole might be improved for a better walk, though.
Black Diamond Quadrant
This boot was designed for a foot that none of the 4 testers has. The front volume was too large, but the boot was way too short for its 27 size, so none of the testers could walk and drive without pain. Accordingly, the comfort score was 1 star. A couple of phone calls with some respected bootfitters confirmed that at least in EU not so many types of foot enjoy this project.
Despite the fold design that should generate a tight boot, the lower buckles were apparently poorly designed so that pressure was towards the sole rather than lateral. This led to a ski drive score of 2 stars. The buckle design was poor. The walk function was not well received (almost no rear cuff movement), and the minimal rocker of the sole was of no help.
The grip of the rubber sole was not brilliant, and the tight sole design did not allow for snow removal while walking.
Dynafit TLT5 mountain
We tested the no-carbon, cheaper version of this innovative boot. It was by far the lightest (1125g) boot of the pack, and from recent reviews we were intrigued by the chance to use such a light AT boot for driving not only AT but also fat skis.
Getting into the TLT5 is a bit cumbersome, but once in the comfort deserves 4 stars. Some testers felt though that the heel was too much locked and hurting while skiing. The walk mode was again not so easy to release but once released it got 5 stars: the rear cuff movement is as good as the maestrale but the TLT5 is so light that one has a trek (not ski) boot feeling. We felt though that the tip has too much rocker, so the walk (and the climb) was not always perfectly ergonomic. This feeling might also be related to the quasi-bellows tip. Testers were frequently asking whether or not the bellows was actually moving if present, the movement might be minimal, but only a long test can clarify this issue.
The additional tongue to be inserted before skiing got mixed reviews: its innovative and improve stiffness (we also used it successfully to improve stiffness in other boots), but is at risk for being forgotten in the car or lost at the summit because of the wind. How much will Dynafit charge for a replacement?
After skiing for two days, the testers reached a consensus: the TLT5 mountain is more an AT than an AT/freeride boot. It can drive a <95mm ski (albeit, according to some testers, with less precision than burlier boots like the virus, the radium, the mobe, etc), but with fatter skis the feeling is of poor control. This might also be due to a) a feeling of an empty tip (again.. the bellows?) that is pushed and not tightened by the lower buckle and b) a not perfect lay of the foot sole. There is probably room for improvement with a personalized foot sole, and of course the performance version with the carbon cuff might be a very different story....
The rubber sole had a 4 star, the grip was good also on killer surfaces. It looks very thin, though, and durability might be an issue to investigate in longer test series.
The Maestrale and the TLT5 were the more innovative and intriguing boots of the pack. While the TLT5 looks more a classic tongue AT boot design with a lot of new tricks, the maestrale sparkled a counter-intuitive approach: it looks like a classic tongue design, but actually the tongue is locked in an asymmetric way so that the lower buckles work in a fold-like, efficient fashion. A more stiff tongue (or an additional tongue like the TLT5) might be a significant bonus in the future. Also, some testers asked for a taller cuff.
Getting into the maestrale might look cumbersome at the beginning, but once accustomed its actually quite easy and the comfort goes to 4.5 stars. The walk has a lot of rear cuff movement and the best front rocker of the sole: five stars and honors.
The maestrale can drive well burly skis. We have found no drive limits even using the stormrider, the 105 and the 112. Testers were very pleasantly surprised by how efficiently the boot transmits the will of the drivers foot sole. At 1500g per boot, the maestrale is about 350 or so more heavy than the TLT5, but in our opinion drives fat skis better. We found room for improvement in the tongue material and maybe in the rubber sole.
Scarpa Typhoon and Mobe
We review these two boots together because we realized they are very similar, in the good and in the bad. In fact, the boot shell is almost identical, so is the pebax plastic. Differences: Thyphoon has interchangeable vibram soles but no dynafit inserts; the Mobe has dyna inserts but the skywalk sole does not meet the standards for alpine bindings.
The mobe has the new scarpa neoprene booster strap (very user friendly and nice at touch), the typhoon has the classic old style scarpa strap. Another subtle but relevant difference regards lower buckles: the mobe has them drilled on light but poweful metal supports, so that once locked the mobe seems to serve slim feet a bit better than the typhoon.
The comfort in these large-volumed boots is 4 to 5 stars depending by the size of the neck of your foot. The nervous pebax plastic and the large tongue interfering with the buckles, though, render the get-in manoeuvre not very user-friendly. The Mobe and the Typhoon drive well burly skis (no relevant differences were noted in the function of the two strap types), but overall the feeling is of deaf boots. Aggro muscle skiers who need critical mass will probably be happy, finisseurs should better gravitate towards more vibrant boots like the maestrale or the TLT5. Do not forget, also, that the walk mode of Typhoon and Mobe, compared to Virus, TLT and Maestrale, is almost non existent.
The ski community is finally getting closer to the target of a do-it-all, light boot that walks and scramble well, avoids catastrophic falls due to plastic soles that have no grip on snow and ice and drives well burly fat skis. There is however a lot of room for significant improvement.
Aggro muscle skiers would like a burly boot like the mobe/thyphoon or the radium with a significantly better walk mode, and a more vibrant/responsive plastic construction. A virus with a perfectly thermofitted liner, a booster and micrometric buckles might get close to the target, but then when one tries the TLT5 and particularly the maestrale the advantages of a fully walkable, light boot that drives well fat skis are immediately perceived.
Taken all these data together, our suggestion to the manufacturers is to insist on the light side of the product spectrum, and to collaborate with solemakers like Vibram to generate together innovative tools to better transmit the foot will to the ski.
The program is ambitious, but not unrealistic. We believe the target can be reached, and we do not want to get too old before such a boot is on our feet.
Throughout the 2010-11 winter the Vibram staff will generate prototypes with innovative soles for better walk and better ski control to be tested by the team. Results will follow, stay tuned.